A HIKE TO Lukomir leaves from the serpentine Rakitnica River and climbs out of a valley along cliffside paths. About three hours into the trek, the trail reaches the village spread across a remote hummock-strewn clearing. There, a cluster of squat, ancient stone houses with wooden-slat roofs rests on the lip of the canyon cradling the river—now a silver ribbon in the afternoon sun and more than 2,600 feet below.


Picture of the village of Lukomir in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Picture of the village of Lukomir in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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VIEW SLIDESHOWA man takes a cigarette break with a view outside Lukomir.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICA shepherd guides his flock through the village.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICEvery summer, around 17 families move back to Lukomir from surrounding towns and cities.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICShepherds wearing berets, wool trousers, and tweed coats live in ancient stone houses with wooden-slat roofs with their wives in colorful dresses and traditional headscarves.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICVillagers celebrate Eid Al-Adha with sweets inside a home in Lukomir.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICA couple welcomes guests into their home.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICFamily members greet each other during the annual celebration to finish preparing hay.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICWomen wear the traditional clothes of Lukomir for the annual celebration to finish preparing hay.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

A woman walks through the village to start her chores.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICA couple peers out of their house in Lukomir.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

A handful of shepherds wearing berets, wool trousers, and tweed coats sit outside with their wives, donning colorful dresses and traditional headscarves. They drink thick coffee cooked on iron stoves and poured from copper pots. In one yard, firewood is being chopped and stacked. In another, a family tends to their vegetable garden. Tombstones, called stećci, from the 14th century and the size of giant steamer trunks, are scattered about the periphery of the settlement. Across the gorge, on the edge of the abyss, flocks of distant sheep graze on suspended green islands, plateaus poking through the clouds.

Picture of the village of Lukomir in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sheep crowd a pen next to Lukomir on Bjelašnica mountain.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Picture of the village of Lukomir in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Picture of the village of Lukomir in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Left: 

A man makes wooden spoons while a boy plays ball.
Right: Women take in the view of the slopes of Bjelašnica mountain near Lukomir.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Picture of the village of Lukomir in Bosnia and Herzegovina
A man wanders the graveyard of Lukomir, where tombstones called stećci date from the 14th century.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

It would be easy to frame this community, which is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s highest village at an elevation of just over 4,900 feet, as lost in time and out of step with modernity. Approximately 35 mountainous miles from the country’s capital, Sarajevo, on the southwestern slopes of Bjelašnica Mountain, which once hosted skiing events during the 1984 Winter Olympics, there is a sense of contented isolation. For more than 500 years, before the Ottoman Empire’s occupation, people here have shuttled livestock between the settlement (technically called Gornji, or upper, Lukomir) and the now empty Donji (lower) Lukomir below. Electricity didn’t come until the 1960s. There is no market, school, doctor, or shop, and from late-autumn until mid-spring the village is inaccessible by car and uninhabited. As often as not, when visitors enter the cluster of homes, they are greeted by a shepherd sitting on a rock, whittling a stick, and cracking jokes with typical Bosnian dry wit.

To hikers, fresh onlookers, the first impression is often theatrical in its perfection: isolation awash with expansive panoramas, welcoming locals, and centuries-old structures. The scene here, in Europe’s Western Balkans region, seems scripted for today’s tourism trends dovetailing soft adventure and authenticity. It becomes clear, however, that Lukomir’s residents persist with their own unrelenting version of reality—without affectation. Every summer, around 17 families, from surrounding towns and cities, move back up to the village. They come to bask in medieval traditions, tend flocks, and assemble for sacred Muslim religious celebrations such as Eid al-Adha.

“Because of the lack of services, a generation of residents moved away,” says Thierry Joubert, the director of Green Visions, an adventure tourism operator. In 2000, the Sarajevo-based company became the first to bring travelers to the village. “But people here have always held this place as sacred. The elders are still very involved in keeping traditions alive. And, they have passed this passion on to their children and grandchildren. With that passion, people from the village started to get involved with tourism—not to exploit, but to educate. To sincerely show this friendly, hardworking way of life. That has been beautiful to watch and enjoy. Lukomir has become a role model for what community-based—and community-enriching—tourism could and should look like.”

Picture of the village of Lukomir in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Villagers and guests gather in front of the village mosque as a part of an annual celebration to finish preparing hay.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Picture of a mosque the village of Lukomir in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Picture of the village of Lukomir in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Left: People attend prayers during Eid al-Adha at a mosque in Lukomir.
Right: Villagers and visitors perform a traditional circle dance.PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIYAH GAFIC, VII/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

One of those grandchildren, Samra Čomor, whose community roots come from both her mother and father, believes her elders are ideal role models and provide a unique lens into this disappearing, old European way of life—both for travelers and herself. As a child, Samra, who grew up in Sarajevo, protested having to spend summers in Lukomir. Today, she realizes her grandparents Vejsil and Rahima Čomor, who are 84 and 77, respectively, and two of the village’s most recognizable characters, gave her an invaluable appreciation for nature and hard work, both of which she utilizes as a tour guide. [Discover Europe’s secret villages.]

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